There are plenty of reasons to be excited about comic books as a tech geek — especially if you enjoy reading digital comics over the traditional printed versions.
The digital comic book industry has consistently grown in annual revenue over the past three years ($8 million in 2010, $25 million in 2011, and $70 million in 2012), according to data from business-focused comic news site ICv2. That number should continue to climb in years ahead thanks to a handful of tech startups and forward-thinking publishers that are disrupting the industry.
Here are seven such companies that are turning the world of digital comics on its head:
Why it’s important: It’s only fair to kick off this list with ComiXology, the startup that’s responsible for pushing the comic book industry into the modern era of digital publishing. The startup was the first big digital platform to begin selling single-issue comics from all the major publishers (Marvel, DC Comics, Image, IDW, Boom Studios, and others) and the first to reach agreements with those publishers to release their comics the same time they debut in print. Comics purchased through their online store are available across Android devices, iOS devices, Kindle Fire, and the web.
How it’s changing digital comics: Digital comics on ComiXology’s platform use the company’s guided view feature, which basically makes it easy to follow a comic page panel-by-panel. The experience is so nice that reading digital comics on other platforms is just painful. And in the last year, publishers have started to utilize that guided view technology to create original comic series that advance the story by tapping the screen rather than turning the page. (For example, Marvel’s Infinite Comics and DC’s DC² comics). Earlier this year, ComiXology kicked off plans to expand its digital comics business in Europe, eventually paving the way for more foreign content that’s translated into multiple languages. And perhaps the most disruptive thing ComiXology is doing is with the company’s creator-owned submission program, which unrepresented creators can use to sell their comics alongside Spider-Man, Batman, and The Walking Dead.
Read all of VentureBeat’s coverage of ComiXology.
Why it’s important: Madefire emerged on the digital comic book scene in 2012 with the purpose of making a new kind of technology that took full advantage of storytelling on mobile devices. The startup has created a “motion book” tool so that artwork on a single page can move and interact with the reader — for example, swiping or tapping a touchscreen or moving the device to have artwork on a page shuffle around. As a result, the story within a motion book unfolds through layers of art, word balloons, and captions that unfold in sequence — sort of like reading a book that slowly fills a blank page with text as you read.
How it’s changing digital comics: Madefire recently announced new publisher partnerships that will bring its motion book technology to a handful of independent and licensed comic book series, including those by IDW, Boom Studios, and Top Cow. Madefire founder Ben Wolstenholme told VentureBeat that the company is seeking out more partnerships with big name publishers, some of which it hopes to announce soon.
Read all of VentureBeat’s coverage of Madefire.
Why it’s important: Image Comics is the third largest comic book publisher that creators use to publish work that they retain the rights on. It’s responsible for a ton of hit original series, including The Walking Dead, Invincible, Saga, The Nightly News, Savage Dragon, Spawn, and many more.
How it’s changing digital comics: Earlier this month Image became the first major publisher to start selling DRM-free versions of comic book files on its website. DRM, or digital rights management, restricts a file’s use outside of official platforms. (Apple previously did this with music downloads on iTunes until the company was able to negotiate with the record labels to offer DRM-free music.) Consumers can download Image comics in a variety of formats, including PDF, CBR, and CBZ formats.
At San Diego Comic-Con, Image publisher Eric Stephenson told Comic Book Resources, “As it stands, we’re doing our digital content in formats people like that are already supported by multiple applications. That was a win-win for us because we’re a comic book publisher, not a technology company. So we’re able to provide our readers content in formats they’re familiar with, without getting into the expensive and time-consuming business of app development.”
How it’s changing digital comics: Founded by former AdMob employees former George Chen and Ehren Kret, Emanata is an iPad app with a storefront that sells comic books on an open platform. Creators retain the rights to their work and also set the prices of each issue. As it stands, there aren’t a ton of platforms available to sell independent comics, so this is definitely a good start. Additionally, Emanata creates white label digital comic book platforms for other creators and publisher, thus improving the business of independent comics in general.
iVerse / Tapjoy
How it’s changing digital comics: Digital comic book platform iVerse has teamed up with Tapjoy to provide a new business model for making money on comic books. For fans of Archie Comics, Tapjoy is employing a reward-based ad model that gives readers free content by completing offers from the monetization and distribution services provider Tapjoy, as VentureBeat previously reported. (Note: Offers are special ads that users can view in lieu of paying for a virtual item.) For example, instead of paying 99 cents for a digital comic, you can watch a video ad, take a survey, or interact with an advertisement in some other way. Once you’ve completed the interaction, Tapjoy unlocks the digital comic for you. This new business model is available for over 2,000 Archie Comics, and could be a good alternate source of revenue for the comic book industry’s older, more niche content that doesn’t sell on its own.
Why it’s important: Panel Syndicate is a new venture by acclaimed writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin. The two creators decided to sell their next project — a 10-issue maxiseries called The Private Eye — on their own, via a pretty simple store on Panel Syndicate’s website. PayPal processes the payments, and fans get to determine what they’d like to spend on the book. That means you can pay nothing and get the book for free, too.
How it’s changing digital comics: As legendary creator Warren Ellis points out, this isn’t the first time such a project has been attempted: “There is no reason why any number of comics companies could not have been funding, facilitating and producing this kind of original creator-owned comics work on the net two, three, five years ago. There is no reason why any of them could not have been absolutely bullish about driving this –- except that they just didn’t want to. So it remains something that happens in fits and starts, done DIY by the creators.” That said, the success of Panel Syndicate could mean that more creators start selling comics on their own.
How it’s changing digital comics: Narr8 is a digital comic book startup that is available on Android, Kindle Fire, and iPad. It produces original motion comics that are similar in scope to what Madefire offers. Creators can come in and make their own original comics, and it even get a cut of the revenue if their work gains popularity. Its business model is, however, much more similar to what iVerse/Tapjoy is doing with Archie Comics. With Narr8, you can read comic books it produces in-house for free by redeeming points awarded for doing different things within the Narr8 platform. The biggest difference with Narr8 is that the content will always exclusively live within its own platform. It’s definitely a company to watch out for in the future of digital comics.